The Downeaster Alexa

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"The Downeaster 'Alexa'"
Single by Billy Joel
from the album Storm Front
B-side"And So It Goes"
ReleasedApril 1990
FormatCD single
StudioThe Hit Factory, Times Square Studio, New York, NY
Songwriter(s)Billy Joel
Billy Joel singles chronology
"I Go to Extremes"
"The Downeaster 'Alexa'"
"That's Not Her Style"

"The Downeaster 'Alexa'" is a song originally written, produced, and performed by Billy Joel for his eleventh studio album Storm Front. The album itself went to number one while the fourth single "The Downeaster 'Alexa'" placed at #57 in the Billboard Hot 100. The song was included on Billy Joel's Greatest Hits Vol. 3 album in 1997.


"The Downeaster 'Alexa'" is performed in the key of A Minor, with Billy Joel's vocal ranging F3 to B♭4. It plays in common time at a tempo of 88 beats per minute.[1] The violin solo is played by virtuoso Itzhak Perlman.[2]

The song is sung in the persona of an impoverished fisherman off Long Island and the surrounding waters who, like many of his fellow fishermen, is finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet and keep ownership of his boat, a type known as a downeaster.[3] The fisherman sings about the depletion of the fish stocks ("I know there's fish out there, but where God only knows") and the environmental regulations ("Since they told me I can't sell no stripers") which make it hard for men like him to survive, especially with the conversion of his home island into an expensive summer colony for the affluent ("There ain't no Island left for Islanders like me"). The lyrics reference locations in the Outer Lands such as Block Island Sound, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Montauk, and Gardiners Bay.

While the song is about a fictional person, it decries the plight of the Long Island Baymen (known locally as Bubbies). The Baymen represent a dying breed of people who, like small farmers, work with the environment to provide for their families, men and women forced out of their livelihoods by industrial "factory" overfishing destroying the traditional fishing grounds as well as the creep of urban society and government regulation. Joel was always sympathetic to the hard working men who worked the sea, even getting arrested during a protest supporting the Baymen. At one point Joel had underwritten a plan by his young boat captain to use his boat (Alexa Ray, a 46' custom downeaster) as a commercial fishing and charter fishing operation. As the two developed the plan, it became increasingly clear that the challenges facing a small commercial operation were greater than he had imagined. The idea was scrapped. It was not long after that this song came together.

Alexa is the name of Billy Joel's daughter, Alexa Ray Joel. The Alexa Ray was a Jarvis Newman 46' fiberglass hull custom finished by Lee S. Wilbur and Co of Manset, ME.[4] The hull was based on the Maine lobster boats known as a "downeaster". Joel has had several other boats since the Alexa Ray, all based on similar hulls. The "Alexa" on which the song was based was a Shelter Island 36, custom built by Coecles Harbor Marine in New York using a BHM 36 hull. His most recent, also built in Maine, is a "Patriot 36" called Argos.[5]

Music video[edit]

The music video for the song was directed by Andy Morahan.[6]

Cover versions[edit]

  • The Brown University a cappella group The Brown Derbies recorded a version on their album "Nightcap," with the main vocals performed by Joel Begleiter. [7]
  • The English roots duo Show of Hands recorded a version on their album Covers.
  • The American rock band O.A.R. has covered the song since 2007[8]
  • A parody of the song was featured on The Howard Stern Show, replacing the lyrics with "Baba Booey" and Howard's common variations of it.
  • This song is also featured in The Hangover Part II during a sequence in which the main characters are on a plane and are driving to a wedding party in Thailand.

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1990) Peak
Canadian Singles Chart[9] 25
Japanese Singles Chart (Oricon)[10] 6
UK Singles Chart 76
US Billboard Hot 100 57
US Billboard Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks 18
US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 33


  1. ^ The Downeaster "Alexa" By Billy Joel - Digital Sheet Music. Retrieved September 2, 2013.
  2. ^ [1] Billy Joel & Itzhak Perlman - The Downeaster 'Alexa' (MSG - March 9, 2015)
  3. ^ Piano Man rocks AlbanyPoughkeepsie Journal, Thursday April 19, 2007
  4. ^ "Jarvis Newman, early fiberglass trend-setter". Profiles Maine. May 30, 2013. Archived from the original on February 24, 2015.
  5. ^ "Just Launched: Billy Joel's New Boat - Argos". Maine Boats Homes & Harbors. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  6. ^ Garcia, Alex S. " - Billy Joel - "The downeaster Alexa"". Music Video DataBase. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  7. ^ [2] (Review of 'Nightcap' by The Brown Derbies. Accessed November 14, 2018.)
  8. ^ Live at the Red Rocks (O.A.R. website. Accessed June 10, 2009.)
  9. ^ "RPM 100 Singles". Library and Archives Canada. June 9, 1990. Retrieved June 11, 2015.
  10. ^ Oricon Singles Chart Oricon Singles Chart (Retrieved November 2, 2012)

External links[edit]